On Sunday afternoon, Attorney General William Barr submitted a letter to Congressional committee leaders, which was subsequently made public, regarding the key findings from special counsel Robert Mueller, who was leading the Russia investigation.
The letter, which you can read in full here (via the New York Times), made clear the key conclusions on matters related to the Russia investigation that Mueller found, and addressed some less-than-clear matters related to questions over whether President Donald Trump acted improperly during the inquiry itself.
Here are a few takeaways everyone should be aware of following Barr’s letter to Congress…
No further indictments are coming, but other investigations are ongoing
Barr wrote in his letter that Mueller’s investigation uncovered several other issues that weren’t related to the Russia investigation. As Barr wrote, those matters weren’t resolved by Mueller, and have been handed off to other investigators in separate jurisdictions.
From the letter:
“During the course of his investigation, the Special Counsel also referred several matters to other offices for further action. The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public.”
Conclusive evidence that Russia was trying to interfere
Mueller uncovered substantial evidence that Russia was trying to “meddle” or otherwise interfere with our elections in 2016. They did so in two ways, Barr pointed out.
First, the Kremlin, through an organization called the Internet Research Agency (IRA), attempted to carry out a “disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election,” Barr wrote.
Russia also tried (and succeeded, in many instances) to get its hands on sensitive information from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, in an effort to make this information public and hurt the former Secretary of State’s chances in the presidential election. This included using Wikileaks as a vehicle in order to disseminate that information, Barr noted.
No evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign
Perhaps the most important part of Barr’s letter was the fact that the Mueller investigation determined it could not find any compelling evidence finding any member of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, including Trump himself, having committed a crime of collusion.
“The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Barr wrote. “As the report states: ‘[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.'”
According to the Barr letter, collusion, or coordination, is defined strictly as “agreement-tacit or express-between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” That means an instance where Trump urged Russia to hack into Clinton’s deleted emails wouldn’t qualify as a collusion or coordination charge.
Obstruction of justice? That’s less clear
On the issue of charges of obstruction of justice, Mueller couldn’t come to a definitive conclusion. While Mueller was tasked to do so, his final report neither urged charges against the president nor said charges would be improper. As Barr noted:
“The special counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. The special counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.”
Citing the “difficult issues” that arose when making such decisions, Mueller instead provided “evidence on both sides of the question” of obstruction of justice. But that didn’t stop Barr, in his own letter, from making a judgment on the matter.
Barr wrote that he believed charges on that question weren’t necessary because “government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding.” He concluded that he couldn’t prove such standards when it came to Trump.
The Trump team was fast to react on that issue. Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, suggested that no collusion charges (or any other, for that matter) meant that any obstruction charges would have to be dismissed.
But that’s not exactly truthful. In ordinary circumstances, obstruction of justice charges can come about, even if a person isn’t charged with an underlying crime to accompany it. As former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks one noted, “You don’t need an underlying crime for the crime of obstruction. To impede an investigation, whether you were part of the original crime or not, you have committed a separate crime: obstruction of justice.”
Even though the question of obstruction was still muddy, the president still tweeted out his glee over Barr’s letter describing the Mueller report.
Those sentiments from Trump are, again, a tad premature. Congress will likely make a final determination about obstruction of justice, and as noted above, other investigations involving the president are ongoing outside of Mueller’s report.
A full report will reach Congress — and probably the American people
Barr’s office will have to cross out several portions of Mueller’s final report before it makes its way to Congress. He’ll have to do so, he said, to prevent “any information that could impact other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other offices,” as well as to “[protect] the integrity of grand jury proceedings and [ensure] that the unique and invaluable investigative powers of a grand jury are used strictly for their intended criminal justice function.”
Less clear is whether a full report will become public — but given that Barr is sending the report to Congress, it’s safe to assume that a public version of the report will be released.
It’s likely that the full report will have more details about what Mueller found — including what improprieties Trump may have engaged in, regarding possible instances of obstruction of justice that Mueller was reluctant to suggest action or inaction on. At that point, whether Trump is “exonerated” or not will be left up to the American people to decide.
Featured image credit: Department of Justice/Wikimedia